I’ll admit I came out to Japan a little earlier than usual in order to take in a couple of Rugby World Cup games, and by the time media day at Suzuka rolled around I felt like I could do with a few days off. So it was very kind of the weather to provide me with one today.
Joking aside, it has been a little strange having an enforced day away from the track mainly watching the rain and wind through a hotel window, but it was definitely the right decision to postpone qualifying with Typhoon Hagibis bearing down on Japan.
The forecasts changed fairly quickly — which is why Formula 1 didn’t want to jump too soon in terms of cancelling Saturday’s action — but it became clear that the best-case scenario was still going to be too bad to run F1 cars in, and the worst-case was going to see widespread damage.
Fortunately from a local perspective, as the day has panned out the typhoon tracked a little further up the coast as it approached Japan. At the time of writing, while there’s still strong wind and rain in Suzuka, the storm itself is about to make landfall around Tokyo.
Some of the footage from areas right in its path has been terrifying, and shows just how bad it could have been. While it was nowhere near as severe at the track — you could stick a coat on and brave the elements without issue for most of the day — it is also worth remembering that many spectators would have had to travel through worse conditions, or would have struggled to make it due to the cancelling of a number of the Shinkansen bullet trains.
It has led to an unusual Saturday where the drivers have been able to enjoy some downtime. After Lewis Hamilton said he might go to Tokyo for the night (he sensibly didn’t), a big group led by Max Verstappen and Carlos Sainz and also including Lando Norris and Sergio Perez spent a chunk of time playing FIFA, while Pierre Gasly similarly had a PlayStation with him.
Some were hoping to go bowling — if the bowling alley in their hotel was open — but Romain Grosjean building and stickering a model of the six-wheeled Tyrrell P34 he had picked up in Yokkaichi was probably the pick of the bunch.
Don’t let that fool you that everyone was having a day off, though. For some team members, there is a heck of a lot of preparation that is being done because of the lost time between qualifying and the race. Usually strategy is worked out overnight, but with no grid order yet or starting tires knowledge, a number of other scenarios are having to be taken into account.
A pretty final setup also has to be settled on, with the cars under parc ferme conditions from the moment they roll out of the garage at the start of Q1 — the first track running on Sunday. And that’s small fry compared to the immense amount of work that is being done by the race organizers, F1 and the FIA in order to try and get the race on.
Walking out of the circuit on Friday night felt like a Sunday evening as so much was being packed away to protect it from the elements. Much of the broadcast center came down and was stored inside; pit walls were removed; garages were cleared and equipment raised off the floor to protect against flooding; sandbags were installed; hospitality units were tethered down and strengthened; camera positions were dismantled; the list was endless…
All of it takes days or even weeks to build up in the first place, but a matter of hours later F1 will be rebuilding as quickly as possible, just as soon as the weather allows. That means people working through the night just as they were on Friday, in order to try and put on a show.
For the teams it will be almost as long, as curfew ends at 5:00 a.m. on Sunday morning and they can start working on the cars again at 7:00, three hours before qualifying. Under pressure, mistakes can be made and on such a tight schedule that could be very costly.
All of which should make for entertaining viewing on the track, but if it all goes as planned off it you’ll barely notice a difference. Be of no doubt that it will have been a massive effort regardless, even if the breather enjoyed by the drivers (and yes, the media too) would have you believe otherwise.